11/09/05 — Board plans to add additional high school

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Board plans to add additional high school

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on November 9, 2005 1:53 PM

The Wayne County Public School system hopes to add a 32nd school as early as next year -- with no construction necessary.

The county Board of Education on Monday night approved entering into a memorandum of agreement with Wayne Community College to operate a public school geared to students who are not succeeding in a traditional high school environment.

Tentatively named "Wayne Early/Middle College High School," the proposal is a result of Wayne County's efforts to satisfy the new directives requiring North Carolina schools to provide alternative and multiple learning opportunities for all students.

School officials began visiting existing sites last year and investigating new program possibilities, said Dr. Sandra McCullen, associate superintendent for instruction.

The timeline calls for the school, which will serve students who are not succeeding in the traditional high school environment, to open on the Wayne Community campus in the fall of 2006 with 60 students in grades 11 and 12. Staff and student recruitment would begin in January.

Students might not necessarily be failing or struggling in their coursework, but might need a smaller, more individual environment to reach their potential, school officials said.

The agreement must still be approved by the Wayne Community College Board of Trustees, which meets later this month. The school system also has to apply for waivers and comply with several things before the state Board of Education meets in December, Dr. McCullen said.

Projected enrollment for the first year would be 30 juniors and 30 seniors. A typical school day would be 11 a.m. and 5 p.m., with honors level academic classes offered in the afternoon and college classes in the morning.

The proposal calls for Wayne Community to provide a building for classes and the school system to employ staff, provide curriculum and pay for textbooks. Students would provide their own transportation, at least at the outset.

The school board approved the memorandum by a vote of 6-1, with board member John P. Grantham voting against it.

Grantham said it had been his least favorite option of all the plans studied. His concerns centered around how the program would be funded.

"It's a service already being provided by the community college," he said. "For us having another school do that, I can't see that we'll have to pay for more staff and administration."

Anne Millington, Wayne Community's director of cooperative programs, said the early college program differs from Jump Start and other accelerated programs in that it responds to a unique need among high school students.

"We're looking for those students who for some reason are disengaging from their high school," she said.

Dr. McCullen said it would target students whose needs were not met in the traditional school setting.

It will cater to students whose interests don't go in the direction of band, sports and cheerleading, or more specifically, students who might be in danger of not making it from ninth grade all the way to graduation, Ms. Millington said.

Statistically, she said, 40 percent of students drop out between ninth and 12th grades. A program like this might actually improve the county's drop-out rate.

Maybe "they'll do better in a very small setting, one where the principals and the teachers will know every one of the students," she said. "We'll have personalized plans to help them."

In many respects, it would be like any other school, Dr. McCullen said. Students would just have their own school experiences, including their own graduation ceremonies, she said.

Superintendent Dr. Steven Taylor said the program will start small and be developed over time. In subsequent years, there are plans to expand the school to start with ninth grade.

"That will be a group of students that will have their whole high school experience on a college campus," Dr. McCullen said. "It's just very different from what we're used to; it's personalizing education for students."

Board member Rick Pridgen called the idea a plus for Wayne County schools.

"I was very excited about it and very excited for the young people that this will serve," he said.

Board member George Moye agreed.

"This will be one of the better facilities that any of our public school students will have," he said.

Board member Shirley Sims said, "I think it's a step into the future for us to have this opportunity."

Board member Thelma Smith voiced a concern over the screening process and asked that diversity of different abilities be taken into consideration.

"There ought to be some slots for all kinds of students," she said.

"It will be a diverse program from all of our population," Dr. McCullen said. "That's one of the requirements."